Thursday, July 30, 2009

Should Buzz Marketing be Authentic?

An article in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal about a "stealth marketing" tactic to promote "I Love You Beth Cooper," a movie that flopped , resurrected my discomfort with some of the buzz campaigns I've seen or heard about. They use trickery to fool and hook people. I'm left wondering: What's the role of authenticity in viral marketing?

The WSJ story told how the movie's marketers tried to use a Los Angeles-area high school valedictorian to trick people into thinking that the movie, which opens with a valedictorian confessing his love for a classmate, inspired copycat confessions across the country. The valedictorian -- you guessed it -- confessed her love for a classmate and for this she was paid $1,800 by the marketers. "I love you, Jake Minor!" she proclaimed at the end of her speech. Did she really love Jake Minor? No. She had a small crush on him earlier that year, but had moved on. She was simply a valedictorian who had agreed to accept money to do what the marketers wanted her to do.

Sometimes the deceit is never uncovered -- no harm done, I suppose. But how about when it is? How do people react when they learn they've been tricked by marketers? Are they bothered by the dishonesty or a lack of transparency? Is there any backlash? I don't know the answers but it's a safe bet that I'm not the only one who dislikes dishonesty as a marketing tool. Outright deception -- which is not the same thing as clever marketing -- would cause me to think twice about staying loyal to a brand. From my perspective, any customer loss is a bad thing.

How do you feel when you discover that a marketer has gone over the top with the smoke and mirrors?

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